Porter grew up in Indianapolis. To avoid the city’s troubled streets, he moved with his family to East Waterloo, Iowa. He barely stood 5’-6” tall, but Porter was a wiry-thin, cat-quick point guard who loved to shoot the basketball.
“I was a good player, but I wasn’t that good, “ Porter said. “I was going to make it, no doubt.” What am I going to do if I don’t make it in basketball? I was going to make it. I had no choice. There were no other options. So I put everything into basketball, my heart and soul, so I could get a scholarship. It was the only way I could go to college.”
Porter scored 1,624 points and averaged 17 points a game during his four-year career at Adams State, earning All-Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference honors each year. He also received All-NAIA recognitions each year, and was name to a United Press International national small college All-American team that included futures NBA stars Willis Reed and Jerry Sloan.
When he graduated from Adams State in 1965, Porter sought to continue his career in basketball. He coached Adams State’s freshman team in 1966. In 1967, he had an unsuccessful tryout with the Denver Rockets of the Old American Basketball Association.
Coaching has long been a goal of Porter. He always respected the discipline he received from his coaches. In high school, Porter was coached by Murry Weir, the former University of Iowa star who led the NCAA in scoring in 1948. At Adams State, Porter was coached by Jack Cotton. “I knew I wanted to be a coach when I was 10 years old,” Porter said. “I knew it then. The man who influenced me was Francis L. Carter, my first coach in grade school. I saw his lifestyle. He had a beautiful wife, a beautiful home and a nice car; I wanted those things.”
Getting into the coaching ranks would be tough. Porter taught two years at Gove Junior High before going to Manual High School, where he was a jack-of-all-trades, doing everything except scrubbing the floors. “I did everything because I wanted to coach.” In 1969, Porter was an assistant coach for Manual’s basketball team. Two years later, in his only season as a prep varsity head coach, he led the Thunderbolts to a state championship. He left Manual in 1972 to become an assistant coach at the University of Nebraska, where he spent five seasons. On April 16, 1977, Porter was name head basketball coach at Regis College.
Since then, Porter has become an institution at Regis. On November 17, 2000, he started his 24th season as head coach. In addition to being the winningest college basketball coach in Colorado’s history, Porter has graduated over 95 percent of his players. He has been named a university ambassador, and in 1996 he founded the Lonnie Porter Summer Academy, which allows inner-city youth to be exposed to the college environment.
Porter, is a loving son, a devoted husband and a caring father. On December 8, 1992, Adams State retired Porter’s jersey, No. 20. In 2000, he was inducted into the college’s athletic Hall of Fame. At Regis, Porter has seven 20-win seasons and four Conference championships to his credit.
“You talk about the achievements…the things that I am most proud of are not the victories, but the kids that I have graduated. That, and my Summer Academy, those are the things that I’m most proud of. Hopefully, long after I’m gone those things will be in place. The awards I’ve received, people will forget those.” Not hardly. What Lonnie Porter has meant to Regis University, and basketball in the state of Colorado will be remembered for years to come.
By Sam Adams, The Rocky Mountain News